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A Clear Look at Sundial Systems- by Christopher B. Wright


The future looks interesting for Sundial's summer releases

Amidst rumors of an upcoming Warp 4.1 release, an update to Word Pro '96, a soon to be released office suite update from Star Division, and speculation on the Corel Java Suite, Sundial Systems is quietly preparing to release the next version of the Clearlook Word Processor.

This new release, version 2.0, should include new paragraph formatting controls, a new user interface, and some invisible, though significant, changes in the underpinnings of the program that will pave the way for future updates and refinements.

Sundial Systems, best known for its Relish Personal Information Manager software, has been acquiring some impressive technology over the past year. Along with its venerable PIM, it has also acquired a word processor, Clearlook, a spreadsheet, Mesa/2, and a relational database, DB Expert, as members of its growing family of software products.

All of these products are being updated, revised, and prepared for new releases. Most seem to be slated for some significant enhancements, though due to the recent abandonment of OpenDoc by IBM and Apple, not all previously planned features will be included. This article is a brief taste of things to come and a glimpse into the possibility of what's in store for one of OS/2's oldest ISV's.

Disclaimer

Some of this information was obtained by reading the transcript of an IRC session that is posted on Sundial System's web site. Some of it was obtained by speaking with an employee of Sundial Systems. It should be noted, however, that the employee was not speaking in an official capacity, and since that time the information may have changed. Caveat Emptor: what you are hearing is a tantalizing possibility -- perhaps a strong possibility, perhaps almost certain -- but it should not be taken in any way as Sundial's official course of action.

OpenDoc is Dead (No, Really, It's Dead)

Sundial Systems had planned to release at least two of their products with OpenDoc support: Mesa/2 and Clearlook. Since Apple and IBM have effectively abandoned all development of this technology, however, Sundial is no longer planning to include it in their products. They haven't given up on object technology, however, and are examining their options.

A Suite by Any Other Name Smells Just as Sweet

Now that Sundial Systems has a PIM, a Word Processor, a Spreadsheet, and a Relational Database, there has been some speculation that Sundial may be planning to release them as a suite. Sundial's plans to release all new versions of the products at the same time has not dampened that speculation in the least. However, the company has been quite evasive about the whole issue. Their stance seems to be, "we're not calling it a suite, but we're not calling them standalone products, either. In fact, we're not telling you what we're calling it." This secrecy doesn't seem to stem from anything other than a reluctance to talk about products that haven't shipped yet, a refreshing departure from publishers of software in some other operating systems that have nothing to do with this magazine.

Sundial has indicated that it will be releasing an announcement concerning the direction of their software, and that it might include a "suite-like offering".

The New Clearlook

Most of the information I have be able to glean deals with Sundial's word processor, Clearlook. Apparently Sundial Systems has been making some substantial changes to this application.

For those of you who were attracted to Clearlook by its small footprint and speed, fear not: Sundial is just as interested as you are in keeping it small and fast. In fact, Sundial is holding off on some popularly requested features (notably, irregularly shaped frames) because of speed concerns.

Many of the changes in the latest Clearlook will be aimed at making it a little more user friendly for people who are used to the layout of other word processors. Sundial is altering the user interface to make it more customizable (for example, customizable toolbars) and closer to the UI's of other popular word processing programs. Also, some tools like mail merge are being updated and improved.

The way Clearlook handles formatted text is also changing. Clearlook 2.0 will include more complex paragraph formatting controls, primarily to make importing and exporting to other word processor formats easier and more accurate. In terms of document filters, for the 2.0 release Sundial is concentrating on improved Rich Text Format and perhaps HTML formats. Other document formats are planned but are more difficult to achieve due to the differences between Clearlook and other word processors. Altering the "plumbing" (as described above) should make it easier for more formats to be included in the future, though.

How frame creation and manipulation are handled is also being modified to make those tasks easier. On the other hand, Clearlook will not be including, at least for the moment, high-end desktop publishing features like irregularly shaped frames. While Sundial isn't ruling out any of these features, they are concerned about two things:

a) the relevance of these features with the surge in web-based publishing, and

b) the performance hit on the program if they were included.

At this point in time, Sundial doesn't seem to have made up its mind about irregular frames, but they are not planned for version 2.0 (or 2.1, for that matter) so don't expect to see them soon.

What Does It All Mean?

Despite Sundial's reluctance to spout vapor, the signs are clear to anyone willing to take notice. The purchasing of these many complimentary applications and surge in development to overhaul many of them sends a clear signal to OS/2 users that Sundial has some big plans for the future. Look for more news on these upcoming products from Sundial in future issues of OS/2 e-Zine!.
Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Northern Virginia/D.C. area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.

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